I have no illusions that raising three daughters will be easy. I know from my own experience that self-confidence and self-acceptance can be ephemeral, a revelation of my own worth one day is hammered by crippling doubt another. Then there are things like Steubenville and the coveted thigh gap. The technology that they are growing up with changes accessibility in ways that I can barely grasp. Each time the headlines explode with these sorts of things I take a deep breath and think, “How can I use this?”

As I look at our girls now, it’s hard to imagine having to worry about whether they will ask me to wear assboards. Right now our life is about a joy that springs from inside themselves, not from any external source. They wear swimsuits because they want to swim; they choose their favorites based on color and comfort. For every princess themed item they pick, a John Deer cap or Lake George tshirt is selected.

People always know that the girls are sisters, but there is no denying there are differences. Their bodies are shaped differently, where one has long limbs another has the definition of muscles breaking the lines, and another still combines the two. Three different shades of blue peek out from beneath hair that varies as much as their laughter.

I listen to them talk to each other. There are never comparisons of shape or beauty, though they bicker over who is faster, stronger, taller or smarter. I’d love to think that is because I held each girl in my arms in the bathroom before bedtime over countless nights gushing at our reflection together:

You are so smart.

You are so strong.

And funny.

And creative.

And beautiful.

Goodnight to you, amazing girl. I love you.

I want to believe that message sank in, that it took root and will tickle at their consciousness when they stare into mirrors years from now. I don’t kid myself though, I know it hasn’t yet been challenged. We’ve told them that life isn’t always fair and dealt with bullying, but not measuring up hasn’t hit. Thinking back I can’t remember when I began to feel like I was less than. I don’t have a definitive moment in my memory of when it was that compliments about my athleticism began to ring more like statements about my lack of femininity. How can I ever hope to be present for a showdown I cannot see?

This July I will turn 40. The silver strands in my hair are no longer remarkable or fascinating, they are markers of my age. Just as I am seeing the rapid acceleration of change on my face and across my body, the girls are subtly taking notice of different things. Avery will be 7 in about two months and Briar will be nine this September. Both girls are paying more attention to pop culture. They identify actresses on magazine covers at the checkstand, they reference songs in conversation. Avery asked me to explain the difference between sex and sexy after hearing the song “Let’s Talk ABout Sex.” I heeded the warnings to say as much as a child seemed ready for, by the time I found myself stammering through the idea of sex as a verb she walked away. “Thanks, I’m going to go outside and climb the front tree.”

I don’t want to force my fears or worries upon them, nor do I want to keep too quiet. So I guess I’ll keep working on this parenting from scratch, using things my own parents did to things I’ve picked up along the way. We’ll talk about why you don’t wear clothing* with messages that you wouldn’t be comfortable saying out loud. We’ll explore themes that are uncomfortable, but that I want them to know how to talk about in public. I’ll let them know that I mess up and get scared, that I have made bad decisions, but that I have also made really good choices.

The thing I want for them to truly understand amid all the photoshopped perfection, celebrity worship, and political divisiveness is that we are all so much more than a clothing size or someone else’s opinion of us. We can never be someone else, but we can always be our best self.

We are so different.
We are so amazing.
We are more than our mistakes.
Dream. Challenge. Believe.
I love you, amazing girls. Be yourselves.

* If you really want to wear ridiculous clothing, go ahead, but do it for yourself.